asking for help.

There came a moment in my second pregnancy when people at the grocery store started wincing as soon as I walked in. Unfortunately, this moment did not come at the nine month and three days mark, or even at the eight month mark. This was one of those (classic, second) pregnancies where I started getting pudgy about two days after conception, strangers asked if I was having twins, and everyone seemed to say, “Any day now?”

(Apparently people still have not learned how to just nicely say, “You are glowing and I am so happy for your growing family.” But that’s another essay for another day.)

On one particular afternoon in the Trader Joe’s check-out aisle, as my almost two-year old was pulling gum and candy off the shelves, I made a wonderful mistake. When the bagger asked if I wanted help out to the car, words came out of my mouth that never had before.

“Yeahhhhhh,” I said hesitantly, followed by something like, “But are you sure?” The guy looked at me with great concern, like my water might break any moment and a child could burst forth if he didn’t help, and then he said, “Absolutely. I’d love a chance to get outside.”

I’m not sure why, but until that moment I believed that accepting help to my car was a privilege reserved for those truly in need. The blind. The elderly. Bomb victims. I was strong and my legs worked. Capable. Collected. Never mind that I had a squirming two-year old rifling through the bags. Never mind that my belly was bigger than Africa. Never mind that it was almost 100 degrees in their crowded, horrible, terrifying parking lot where impatient people lose their personalities waiting for the slow pregnant lady to load up her toddler, eggs and twelve varieties of ice cream.

I guess…I suppose…some help might be nice. Just today.

It felt odd to watch someone else push my cart to the car, like I was incapable of such a simple task, and it was even weirder to have him stack my groceries in the trunk with no expectation for a tip. I think he asked when the baby was due and I told him probably never. When I thanked him—and I was so thankful—he said it was his pleasure.

As I drove home that day I couldn’t help but realize how easy it all felt. I wasn’t stuck in that weird debacle of trying to decide whether to take care of Anna first, or unload the groceries, and I didn’t have to run waddle the cart back to the bin while my little one sat in a hot car. By the time I pulled into my driveway, I was wondering why the checkout boy hadn’t offered to come home and help me unload the car. Receiving that offer of help felt so good, so necessary. Why had I said no my entire life?  

To no one’s surprise, I delivered a huge, ten-pound baby boy later that summer. Technically, he was the combined weight of many twin births, so I suppose all those stranger’s comments were accurate. Even though I’m not pregnant anymore (and I’m not blind or using crutches either) I’ve been enthusiastically accepting help to my car every time we visit a grocery store. When it comes to receiving help, I’ve replaced “are you sure?” with “absolutely, yes.” And after a rather embarrassing incident involving one of my children throwing an entire cartoon of blueberries in the parking lot, I’ve taken an even bigger step. Now, if no one offers to help me, I often ask.

I started asking for help in other ways too, not just at the grocery store. In the newborn days, when I was sleep deprived and angry, I asked my mom to watch the kids. When my son wasn’t talking very much at 18 months, I called a speech therapist for a free evaluation. When my kids were sick last week, I texted my neighbors to bring over provisions like applesauce, Pedialite, and carpet cleaner. These requests may sound like no-brainers to some, but they were big, humbling moments for me. I like feeling strong. I’m prideful of my independence. And I know I’m not alone. So many women are hiding in their houses trying to hold it all together for fear of appearing weak or needy. They’re not asking, even when they’re desperate.

Are you feeling desperate today, mama?

There’s something you need to know. You are not weak if you need backup. You aren’t needy if you have to ask your husband to rock the baby at 4:00am because you’ve already been up three times. You are not lazy if you hire a housecleaner every Tuesday because we all know you’ll be cleaning it about 23 times between Wednesday and the next week. Mothers—whether you’re stay-at-home, work-from-home, work full-time or work overtime—you are managing a whole lot of crazy. Sure, help is sometimes a luxury. It’s also, much of the time, an absolute necessity.

And you know, a funny thing happened when I started asking for help. As I began recognizing my own needs, I also started noticing others needs in a way I hadn’t before. The more I’ve said yes to help, the better I’ve become at offering it to others. There is a beautiful, natural, give-and-take to helping each other that comes when we humbly let down our guard.

There’s still a lot about motherhood I haven’t figured out, but I do know this: we cannot do this alone. So start saying yes in the grocery store line. Start asking for a hand when yours are full. Accept your mother-in-law’s offer to watch the kids. And please stop telling yourself you need to have it all together, because none of us do. Isn’t that so freeing?  

Written by Lesley Miller. Photo by N'tima Preusser